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In Pakistan, One Tweet Makes A Difference

When RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal highlighted a widow's plight, Pakistanis reached out to help through social media.
When RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal highlighted a widow's plight, Pakistanis reached out to help through social media.
“My inner worrywart wonders whether the new technologies overtaking us may be eroding characteristics that are essentially human,” former New York Times executive editor Bill Keller wrote last year in an article entitled “The Twitter Trap.”

He need not worry so much: the power of social media outlets like Twitter to do social good was demonstrated recently when a single tweet by a Radio Mashaal correspondent moved the Pakistani government to help the ailing widow of a legendary Pashtun musician.

Last month, Radio Mashaal correspondent Khalid Khan reported on the devastating decision facing Ashoora Bibi, the 75-year old widow of Pashto music legend Rafiq Shinwari. Shinwari, who died in 1991, was considered such a national treasure that he received an award in 1985 from then-President Zia ul-Haq. Now impoverished and desperate, Bibi was considering selling her husband’s awards and medals to pay her medical bills.

Khan’s story aired on Radio Mashaal on April 23, and was posted to Mashaal’s Facebook and Twitter accounts by colleague Shaheen Buneri. Immediately, fans of Shinwari came together and began to search for ways to assist his widow. As the message spread across the Internet, Pakistani legislators and government officials also learned of Bibi’s predicament.

Pakistani National Assembly member Bushra Gauhar tweeted Buneri to ask for contact information, and later tweeted the news that the Department of Culture had allocated 100,000 rupees (about $1,100) to Shinwari’s widow, who was also promised medical assistance.

“@shaheenbuneri Have requested the CM [Culture Ministry] & concerned to reach out to her. Please DM [direct message] her contact to me asap. Thanks, BG @aliarqam@ijazkhan”

The rapid response of both fans and government officials highlights the growing ability of social media to share important news, generate interest and drive action in this volatile part of South Asia. Buneri’s tweet gave fans all over the world the ability to quickly respond to the plight of Rafiq Shinwari’s widow. Small triumphs like that ought to hearten the essentially human tweeter in us all.

-- Aemilia Madden